Escalating global concerns about aviation safety and border security are contributing to a rapid growth in demand for South African-trained sniffer dogs.
Mechem is one of the world’s most trusted breeders and trainers of canine detectives and its four-legged sleuths have a well-earned reputation for sniffing out explosives, drugs, smuggled animal products and other contraband.
Ashley Williams, the General Manager of Mechem, says there is a global shortage of quality working dogs. Regional tensions and recent incidents of terrorism on passenger airlines have led to a comprehensive rethink about security measures at airports and border posts.
Many countries are now rediscovering the capacity of sniffer dogs to screen cargo at loading bays at busy airports and to perform spot checks on vehicles moving across international borders. When you combine the natural abilities of well-trained dogs with advances in modern scanning technology you are able to provide a comprehensive security solution.
Williams says the Mechem dogs and handlers are in great demand in many conflict regions. Through the years trained teams have proven their value in landmine detection operations in countries such as South Sudan, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The reputation of the dogs was enhanced when they uncovered a major drug smuggling operation in the West African country of Benin. Efforts to hide heroin in aircraft parts, bolts and screws could not prevent the dogs from detecting the contraband. Mechem was contracted to provide sniffer dogs and training to the government of Benin.
Cross-border tensions in West Africa have led to other countries in the region turning to Mechem for the training of dogs and handlers to be deployed at strategic border posts.
The key to the success involves the training of dogs and handlers as a team, explains Dr Hannes Slabbert, the Senior Manager: Canine Business. Clients have the options of utilising the services of teams provided by Mechem, or sending handlers to South Africa for training.
It takes up to 12 weeks to train a novice handler and a further three months to become a fully-certified trainer. Detection teams trained by Denel are used by governments, nature conservation bodies, police services and the private sector.
Slabbert says that the unique system which combines modern technology with the canines’ capabilities to search for and uncover a wide range of substances, gives the teams their edge. The Mechem Explosives and Drug Detection System – MEDDS – involves collecting air samples from suspect containers or vehicles and taking them to the dogs in a controlled environment. When the dogs confirm the suspicions investigators take further steps to physically inspect a consignment.
“Drug smugglers and terrorists are using increasingly sophisticated methods to hide illicit substances,” says Williams. “Our training of dogs and handlers are constantly updated to keep one step ahead of them.”
Mechem has accumulated almost 35 years of experience in the training and operational deployment of working dogs. Some of the canines are bred at the Mechem kennels in Lyttelton and then taken through the socialisation and training processes.
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